Associate Professor of Applied Psychology
Phone: (212) 998-5543
Most of my work seeks to understand and remediate gaps in learning, standardized test performance, and well being among culturally disadvantaged students. Often, the low performance of students of color and low socioeconomic status gets casually chalked up to genetic or cultural differences that supposedly block acquisition of skills or values necessary for academic success. In contrast, my students, colleagues, and I have uncovered some exciting and encouraging answers to these old questions by looking at the psychology of stigma - the way human beings respond to social threats and the fragility of human performance, motivation and curiosity. We have found that being targeted by well-known cultural stereotypes ("blacks are unintelligent", "girls can't do math", and so on) can be threatening, a predicament my mentor and I called "Stereotype Threat." Stereotype threat (AKA identity threat) engenders a number of interesting psychological and physiological responses, many of which interfere with intellectual performance and academic motivation. My lab has conducted numerous studies showing how stereotype threat depresses the standardized test performance of black, Latino, and female college students. These same studies showed how changing the testing situation (even subtly) to reduce stereotype threat, can improve standardized test scores. This work offers a more optimistic view of race and gender gaps than the older theories that focused on poverty, culture, or genetic factors. We have found that we can do a lot to boost both achievement and the enjoyment of school by understanding and attending to these psychological processes, thereby unseating the power of stereotypes and prejudice to foil the academic aspirations of the young people who are subjected to circumstances that compromise their growth.
A particular focus of my recent work is on creating scalable interventions that schools can use to improve the performance and learning of their students. These interventions include my work on growth mindsets, meditation, and mindfulness, but also broader interventions that change school culture and student character development with what I call "four-dimensional curriculum."